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We often ask each other: what are your earliest recollections? For me, it’s the simple stuff of home life, like constructing high jump equipment out of two stools and a dressing gown cord with my brother and sister and then spending hours in the lounge room jumping over it. Or making mud pies in the backyard and then hurling them over the neighbour’s fence.
It’s things like going to the hospital (which was then the Canberra Community Hospital – homepage pic from ‘Old Canberran’ at the-riotact.com) on Sunday nights with my Dad, who was a doctor there, so he could do his ‘pre-meds’ – talking patients through their operations scheduled for the next day. My siblings and I would hang out in one of the less-used visitor’s lounges, drinking free hot chocolate from a machine. I remember these as good times. Perhaps it also explains my fondness for hospitals, where many can’t abide them.
I remember riding to school with my siblings and then, once they moved on to high school, riding on my own and feeling a bit lonely. I remember one day my school trousers got stuck in my bike chain and I had to sit on the pavement and wait until an older kid came and yanked them out for me. And another time riding, when a bee got trapped under the arm of my skivvy and I heard it buzzing all the way to school. I’ve never ridden so fast in all my life. Why I didn’t get off my bike and remove the creature, I’ll never know. These seemingly trivial memories were important to me at the time and have stuck with me.
In the school holidays, Mum would often take us to a movie at Civic Cinemas. Firstly, we’d go to Woolworths, which was right near where the merry-go-round still is today, and choose some lollies. After the movie, we’d return to Woolworths, but this time venturing upstairs to the cafeteria, where we’d eat lunch (usually a meat pie or some other such delicacy).
Once, when I was old enough to go to a movie without Mum, my friends and I got into a fight with another group of girls, over some trivial matter that I can’t recall (but I can confirm there were Maltesers being thrown back and forth between the groups), and running out of the cinema at the end of the movie to Mum’s ‘getaway car’ on Bunda Street. Clearly in those days, parking was no issue. (pic above right from ‘Threepaws’ at the-riotact.com)
Then there are the memories surrounding my journey from childhood to adulthood; my formative, teenage years. In the summer time, school holidays and weekends, as soon as I’d wake up, I would pull my bedroom curtain back to check the weather situation. I would stare at the clouds, willing them to move on. Sometimes we went to the Macquarie pool (now Big Splash) and other times to Civic pool. I remember doing ‘pinnies’ of top tower, but never having the guts to do bombs, like the boys in the board shorts. I can still remember the feeling of freedom the first time I walked with friends from the bus interchange to the pool, finally without someone’s mother having to drive us!
I remember thinking how cool I was accompanying my older sister to arthouse movies at ‘Electric Shadows’ – a small, independent Cinema on City Walk (near where Shop Handmade is now), ‘known for its quirky programming style and its informal atmosphere.’ It closed in 2006 and merged with the Dendy group. I used to wonder which cinema we’d be in, the red one or the blue one. The first movie I recall seeing at ‘the shads’ was Repo Man, in 1984, starring Emilio Estevez.
I’ve got many lasting memories from my time at Uni, too; particularly my first year, which I spent living on campus at Ursula College (now Ursula Hall). The friends I made during this year are still among my closest. Although I struggle to remember what subjects I took, I do remember more significant events, such as my first O-Week and first ‘Bar Crawl.’ When I first started my degree, the bar was upstairs and very grungy. I remember having to learn to drink beer, because it was always going cheap (or free, by the keg, at some parties). By the time I’d get to the end of the schooner, it was always warm and disgusting. But, I persevered and conquered.
I remember having to avoid my Italian tutor, who also lived at the college, because I hadn’t yet handed in my major assignment, and had instead forged a doctor’s certificate and scrawled the words ‘glandular fever’ upon it. Under these conditions, it would not have done for him to see me cavorting around the corridors with my usual gay abandon.
The part-time jobs I had growing up have also stayed clear in my mind. My first was at Hansel & Gretel, chocolate and coffee merchants, in the Belconnen Mall. It was right near where K-Mart is today (I think there’s a jewellery store there now). I use to love working Friday nights, as all my friends would either drop by and say ‘hi’ or would themselves be working in the Mall and we would catch up at the end of our shifts.
At Uni I worked in a department store at the top of the Monaro Mall, now the sprawling Canberra Centre, in Civic (pic: National Archives). The store was originally Marcus Clarke & Co., then Waltons, but when I was there I think it was called Venture. The supermarket in this Mall was Coles New World. By the way, did you know that Monaro Mall was Australia’s first multi-storey, covered shopping mall?
During this time, I also worked at Waffles, which was connected to The Private Bin on Northbourne Avenue. I’ll never forget the cornflower blue skirts we had to wear. Still, it was better than the skimpy, halter-neck top my friend had to wear to work ‘upstairs’ at the Bin. I would never have braved such a job.
Canberra has moved on a bit since those days. I become a bit wistful when I visit the National Museum, where the hospital once was. I miss that place of my youth. But, time marches on and things change. Sometimes, the places we once knew disappear. But we will always have our memories.
(Incidentally, I was one of those stupid people positioned in a paddleboat on the lake at the time of the ill-fated hospital implosion of 1997. I heard pieces of shrapnel land right behind us).
What are your most treasured memories growing up? Are you ever overcome by a desire to revisit your past? Are the places you grew up around still there?